Habana puts Boks in sight of title

Australia 25 South Africa 32
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At last, a world-champion performance from the world champions. South Africa finally proved they can play attacking rugby with the ball in hand and still win important Test matches. This victory, which came like a breath of fresh air after their dreary, kicking-obsessed performances in earlier Tri-Nations games, has put them on the verge of the title. Another success against the Wallabies next week in Brisbane would clinch it.

Three tries in the first 32 minutes were decisive at Perth's Subiaco Oval. The Springboks came roaring out of the blocks, clearly stung by recent criticism from around the world over their limited, kicking-dominated game. Their scrum-half, Fourie du Preez, making his 50th Test appearance, stole in for the first try after six minutes. The centre Jaque Fourie exposed a huge gap in the Australian defence for the second four minutes later and the winger Bryan Habana snatched a loose ball to sprint over on the half hour.

It wasn't so much the finishing that made the difference from previous weeks, but the intent to play a more expansive game. What the Springboks produced confirmed what most observers know well – that they, more than any other side in world rugby, have the talent to produce an entertaining, 15-man game.

Their half-time lead of 22-6 was the least they deserved. The Wallabies looked grossly inferior, making far too many mistakes to have a serious chance of hauling themselves back into the match. They reduced the arrears early in the second half with Matt Giteau's try after a spell of sustained attack but handling errors (they made 13 in total) and turnovers (a shocking 21) cost them dear.

Habana's second try, after an Australian line-out was lost near their own line, proved crucial. Steyn's conversion made it 29-13 and although Australia finished strongly, with tries by Giteau and Lachie Turner inside the last five minutes as the Springboks tired, it was too little, too late. If Giteau had not missed two first-half penalties – plus the conversion of his own try from in front of the posts – the Springboks might have been caught. That would have been a rank injustice.

Du Preez was the mastermind of a powerful, commanding display. His subtle probing was technically excellent. Yet the Boks struggled badly in one department – the scrums, where the Wallabies were vastly superior. John Smit's credentials as a tight-head prop were exposed. But the tactic of moving the ball masked that difficulty, with the fast Springbok backs showing devastating form. It made all the difference.

Australia J O'Connor (D Mitchell, 75); L Turner, R Cross (Q Cooper, 64), A Ashley-Cooper, P Hynes; M Giteau, L Burgess (W Genia, 57); B Robinson, S Moore (T Polota-Nau, 53), B Alexander, J Horwill, M Chisholm, R Elsom, R Brown (D Pocock, 48), G Smith (capt).

South Africa R Pienaar (F Steyn, 72); JP Pietersen (A Jacobs, 64), J Fourie, J de Villiers, B Habana; M Steyn, F du Preez (R Januarie, 75); T Mtawarira, B du Plessis (C Ralepelle, 75), J Smit (capt; J du Plessis, 75), B Botha (A Bekker, 53), V Matfield, H Brussow, P Spies, J Smith (S Burger, 53).

Referee: B Lawrence (New Zealand).